Dear Football: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Sad cheerleaderI love football. I wait every year for fall. I quake when training camp starts in August. I plan menus around my favorite teams’ matchups. But lately I’ve been hit with a pretty troubling thought: football doesn’t love me back.

It’s no secret that professional sports players commit acts of violence. The recent Ray Rice scandal was awful, but truthfully speaking, it’s not like Rice is the first player to beat his wife. I’m a fan of college football, and my favorite two teams, Florida State University and Nebraska, have been league leaders year after year by recruiting terrible people who have records, who do drugs, who hurt other people.

And the bad behavior isn’t just limited to the players. My team, FSU, perpetuates harmful racial stereotypes with its mascot—a cheerleader dressed in red face, who does a “war dance” complete with whoops and tomahawk chops before every game. The fans “chop” along, singing a fake Indian war song while they cheer their team to victory. It’s embarrassing, and I can only imagine how members of Florida’s Seminole Tribe feel when they see stadiums full of drunk white kids mocking their culture.

Even the players don’t come out of football unscathed. Here in North Carolina, college athletes at UNC were given a lighter academic load and were encouraged to sign up for fake classes for credit. Although fewer than 1% of college football players ever play professionally, these kids were encouraged to wear out their bodies, skimp on the academics, and bend their morals, all in pursuit of unlikely gridiron glory. Players seeking to unionize, to get a little pay for that sacrifice, have been warned off the practice, and have been shut down by their coaches. We can’t even offer these players blood money for their sacrifice.

At least one in three professional football players experience traumatic brain injuries during the course of their career. At least one in five average married men physically abuse their wives. Combine these two statistics, add in a healthy amount of celebrity and fast money, and I believe you have an equation that leads to a lot of hurt families. Of course not all football players hurt their wives or children. I don’t believe the old canard that guys who participate in an intense sport must be violent off the field as well. I’ve met plenty of linebackers who I would trust with a kitten or with my infant child.

It’s become clear to me. The problem isn’t with the players, or even with the actual sport. It’s the entire football industry. It chews up players, damages their brains, and doesn’t give them the tools to deal with the stress, injuries, or lifelong effects of rising to the top then falling nearly as fast the minute their bodies give them up. The NCAA and the NFL don’t care that these players hurt women and children. They don’t care that they are mentally ill, or  that they come from communities filled with systemic violence. The only thing these team owners see are dollar signs.

So I think I might be breaking up with football. It feels weird, and I don’t want to do it. But the problems is, every time I buy a ticket, or a beer at an NFL game, or even watch a commercial at halftime, I’m propping up an industry that doesn’t share my values, or even care very much about me. And I just can’t pretend I don’t see that anymore. Bye, football. It’s been… real.

As an experiment, I asked my Facebook friends if I should break up with Football and these are some of their comments. (I have their permission to share.) What do you think? Tweet us at #WomenAdvaNCe or comment below to join the conversation.

  • Vanessa Roth: I would like to see the NFL be put on notice by fans, that we won’t stand for this and that we will hold the league accountable for taking this opportunity to create a campaign to educate players, coaches, fans, and to shape policies that will reduce such violence. They have the resources to put in work on this. I don’t care if they do it only for PR. But do it!
  • Maya Adkins: I can’t break up with football. Yet this whole thing has shown me how bad NFL commentators are at discussing domestic violence. How completely ridiculous the standards of punishment are, a forever suspension for marijuana abuse and a couple of games for violent offenses. Nonetheless, I think it’s good that people are actually paying attention to these issues and reevaluating the kind of representatives they want on their teams.
  • Anne Blackburn Cuneo: If the joy football adds to your life is too polluted from how the organization treats women, then it looks like football broke up with you. The fashion industry has a total disregard for women, but I love fashion anyhow. Football has never been about women and it never will be. I will always have an unnerving icky feeling when I think about a player beating his wife or child, but that goes for [someone] out there who does the same (in the music industry, Hollywood, business professionals, fast food workers, teachers, military personnel, whatever). I can love the game, but hate the player or The Man or whomever.
  • Tara Caldwell Ferguson: Why blame the thousands of players and officials and higher ups for the mistakes of a few? For instance, no one on the Jaguars has done anything against women, why should I stop supporting them? Roger Goodell is not the NFL. Adrian Peterson is not the NFL. Ray Rice is not the NFL. There are 30 other owners who are not putting up with their players being violent off of the field. Can we give those guys a little credit instead of trying to smack the ban hammer down on the entire league?
  • Ty Cassidy: The Vikings just activated Adrian Peterson because of the loss this past weekend. So, winning and profit is more important and being spun as letting the legal system do its thing but they [Vikings Management] don’t feel they should involve themselves in how someone “disciplines their child”. And the other team will take the field against them next week. When asked, they’ll spout the same line, as it’s the easy out. Yes, it’s an indictment of the whole league. Any notion that the other teams wouldn’t handle this in the same manner is naive at best.
  • Jenn Meccariello Layman: Think about it terms of voting since, in a sense, you’re voting with your wallet in the case of the NFL over this issue – not watching their games is a loss of ad revenue, not buying their merchandise is a loss of money, etc. Normally, I don’t think it’s healthy for government (and people) to vote on single issues, but there are some single issues that I personally can’t and won’t overlook in a candidate, namely gay rights, abortion rights, and women’s rights. Other stuff, like the environment and business issues, I’m willing to bend a little if the candidate is, to me, an overall better choice than her opponent. So in the case of the NFL, they’ve hit one of the trifecta; the decision to boycott or break-up or just stop caring has been made for me. Done. No questions. And this is coming from a Steelers fan.



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  1. Chad Boykin

    To add to the discussion, I would add that Robert Reich recently posted this:

    “As if the NFL didn’t already have enough trouble with women, it turns out the most powerful sports league in the U.S., with $9.7 billion in annual revenue, pays its cheerleaders less than McDonald’s workers. The Dallas Cowboys, who pioneered the modern day NFL cheer squad — including choreographed dances and skimpy outfits — pay their cheerleaders $150 per game, which, figuring in rehearsal time, comes to under $7 an hour. The Buffalo Bills don’t even pay that. The Raiders just announced their cheerleaders will be getting $9 an hour, the California minimum wage. The minimum salary for a single player in the NFL is $420,000. League Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $44 million in 2012. Do you think the NFL could possibly afford, say, $15 an hour for its cheerleaders?”


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